CAIRO – 16 October 2019: The Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies (ECSS) has released a new edition on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), entitled “Renaissance Dam: Dimensions, Repercussions and Future Courses”, regarding developments of negotiations after reaching a deadlock and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s statement at the UN that the dam “will not be operated by imposing a fait accompli.”
A number of top-level officials, diplomats, politics and legal scholars took part at a three-day conference organized by ECSS to discuss the legal, political and diplomatic aspects of the issue.
How Ethiopia Drove GERD Negotiations Into Deadlock
Attiya Essawi, a writer focusing on African affairs for Al-Ahram daily, during his participation shed the light on stages of GERD negotiations and Ethiopia’s intransigence, which prompted President Sisi to strongly warn that the dam will not be operating by imposing a fait accompli, ringing an alarm bell that showed the international community the real part behind the deadlock that the negotiations reached.
Moreover, the Egyptian leader affirmed that Egypt is not against development of the Ethiopian people, however, this must not come at the expense of Egypt and harming its interests and rights.
Top-level statements affirmed to the whole world Egypt's dissatisfaction with Ethiopia's intransigent stance which prevented reaching an agreement, despite the signing of the Declaration of Principles in March 2015, and despite the agreement between President Sisi and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in June 2018 to adopt a common vision between the two countries without prejudice to the rights of the other party.
Essawi explained that the 2015 agreement stipulates that the filling of the dam will only begin in accordance with the agreement of the three countries and that Ethiopia has to adhere to its agreement with Egypt and Sudan, while awaiting the final report of the international committee of experts on its potential impacts on water flow.
Despite all this, Ethiopia did not abide by the agreement, did not agree with the French consultant's plan, and all the studies confirmed that the dam as it wants Addis Ababa would harm Egypt.
He further stressed that Egypt, without maintaining the water level in front of the High Dam at a minimum of 165 meters during the period of filling the lake, will lose around $1.8 billion of economic output, more than one million jobs annually, and electricity worth $300 million.
While the the per capita share of water in Egypt is less than 625 m3, the Ethiopian per capita reaches 38 thousand cubic meters per year. While Egypt has only the Nile, Ethiopia has 12 rivers, pointing out that Egypt was generous with Ethiopia by not insisting on stopping the construction of the dam until studies proved that it does not harm its historical rights in the Nile water.
Conflict of Visions Regarding GERD
Although the Egyptian-Ethiopian relations have been improving steadily over the past four years, the Renaissance Dam file is taking an opposite course, according to ECSS advisory board member Hassan Abu Taleb.
He further said that reaching a common ground requires transparency, cooperation and exchange of information regarding the flow rates of the River Nile.
Abu Taleb also stressed that Ethiopia is only considering the dam as a national project without giving any considerations to the rights or interests of Egypt or the negative effects that the dam will impact over the livelihood and economy of the Egyptian state.
Most importantly, Abu Taleb pointed out that Adis Ababa is wrongly reading the scene, as Ethiopia considered Egypt’s diplomatic approach and seeking international mediation as a sign of weakness by Cairo. He affirmed that Egypt did not tend to a military solution based on a real and humanitarian Egyptian vision, and because it does not seek to prolong or escalate the conflict because it will negatively affect the whole Nile basin countries.
Ethiopia Refuses to Cooperate
African affairs specialist Mustafa Ahmadi, for his part, said the main disagreement is over the period during which the dam will be filled, despite the strict measures that Egypt and the Egyptian people have been attempting to rationalize water usage, Ethiopia refused to flow 40 billion m3 of Nile water towards Cairo, although it is a lot less than Egypt’s historical right of the River Nile.
On the other hand, there was a presentation of the strict measures taken by the Egyptian state to reduce water consumption, including reducing the cultivation of water-intensive crops. According to historical development, per capita water in Egypt has decreased from 2,000 cubic meters to 555 cubic meters as the population doubled.
Egyptian Stand After GERD Negotiation Failure
Ahmed Amal, head of the African Studies Unit at the ECSS, has pointed out that Egypt should reevaluate the situation, especially after the Ethiopian side started procrastinating.
The Ethiopian negotiations, according to Amal, seemed less hostile after Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, despite that this receded hostility did not result much outcomes, thus the Egyptian side decided to get things moving by holding tripartite talks through the African Union Summit in February. However, as the Ethiopian side started stalling and demanding to delay further negotiations, Egypt decided to resort to the international community to mediate and resolve the issue.
The speedy construction of the dam raise suspicions regarding Addis Ababa’s intentions, as while it stalls negotiations, construction of the dam goes underway at an accelerated pace.
Amal also traced Ethiopia’s weak points in this file, pointing out that Ethiopia is not fully stable internally nor regionally and Sudan’s vague stand as it is currently caught up with a transitional period and its internal issues.
GERD Amid Deadlocks, Available Alternatives
ECSS Advisory board member, Major General Mohamed Ibrahim Al Dwairi, has pointed out to several main limitations to the Ethiopian dam; the first of which is that the issue is directly related to Egyptian national security, therefore, any escalation by the Egyptian state must be based on calculated measures and procedures.
The second issue is that the dam itself became reality, and should be dealt with as such, in order to reach a solution, while the third point is that Egypt has never rejected the construction of the dam itself, but under condition that it do not harm Egypt’s Nile quota.
Egypt has, on more than one occasion, voiced concerns regarding the principles that Ethiopia announced regarding the dam and its filling stages, which would have negative effects as it would reduce Egypt’s Nile quota.
It is also pertinent to mention that Ethiopia started building the dam during the Egyptian January 2011 revolution, but Egypt did not publicly address the GERD issue until after the June 30 revolution that paved the road for a national leadership to look into the interests of the country.
Dwairi further pointed out to the importance of the principles signed between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in March 2015, the preamble of which states that the three countries must commit to all ten principles contained in the agreement, but the Ethiopian side continued its hard-line approach ignoring these obligations.
Therefore, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was keen to raise the issue before the international community by taking a position that focuses on international law and political action in order to preserve the Egyptian national water security diplomatically, away from any pointless conflicts.
The United States also was keen to deal positively and quickly with the Egyptian demands for international mediation regarding the dam. A While House press statement has said the United States supports Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan’s ongoing negotiations to reach a cooperative, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on filling and operating the dam.
The advisory board member also said the coming period will see a new mechanism for negotiation in the framework of international mediation, and all parties, especially the Ethiopian party, must allow these mediation with all the credibility, confidence, transparency and openness they require, until the problem is finally solved in a way that reflects Africa as a successful example of fruitful cooperation.